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This is a follow-up to last week’s musing, titled “Would You Sit in the Chair?” In case you missed that, or it’s fuzzy in your memory, let me quickly recap:

I intend to find a public space, here in my town, where I might meet in silence the gaze of strangers seated opposite me. Why? As I put it last week, “I want to help close the divides between us. To meet the `other’ as a flower, and to mirror back the beauty of the flowering. To gift strangers with attention and compassion—the knowledge that they are seen, and valued—without them having to earn it. To create a meeting ground where so little matters, perhaps everything in the world can matter differently.”

My inspiration for this is a 2010 show by the performance artist Marina Abramović (“The Artist is Present”). But my variation on her project, which I’m calling “Humanity Present,” will be spiritual practice rather than artistic performance. It will be another way of offering people my unconditional trust, care, and hope.

* * *

After announcing this idea last Sunday, and asking you whether you’d be willing to sit and gaze with me, I received a flood of responses. (See a sampling below. If your response isn’t there, forgive me—I ran out of room.)

I’ve valued your messages. You’ve helped me to imagine my way more deeply into this project. And I’ve been thrilled to hear that you might be thinking of doing the same thing where you live.

As I was replying to your emails, an idea began to form: Maybe you could help me prepare for my “Humanity Present” project (and perhaps for yours, too) by “sharing the gaze with me” via Zoom.

As anyone with Zoom experience knows, interacting on screen is no substitute for actual presence. But it can be a very helpful tool. I’m interested to learn from this.

So, here’s my invitation, offered in the hope you might join me in this preparation:

  1. I’ll make myself available in a “Humanity Present” space on Zoom most Mondays this summer from 5-6PM Central. Hopefully this time slot is convenient for you. It’s what I can offer.
  2. To meet me in that space, you must register. (There is no cost. This is my gift.) A single registration will allow you to show up for any Monday session.
  3. After you register, Zoom will send you a confirmation email with information about how to join the “meeting,” as well as details about how the session will proceed. (You might want to save it or print it.)
  4. As a registrant, you’ll receive a Zoom reminder on Monday mornings. (Attend when you’d like. You may participate more than once.)
  5. When you wish to join a Monday session, click the link or button in either your confirmation email or your reminder email. You’ll then be admitted to the Waiting Room.
  6. While in the Waiting Room, please stay close to your device and be prepared for me to fetch you into our shared space. Registrants will be admitted, one at a time, in the order they arrived. It’s impossible to predict how long your wait will be, or even if I’ll be able to sit with you that Monday. It depends on how many people show up, in what order, and how long each of them sits with me.
  7. When you enter our shared space, your Zoom camera should be enabled and your sound muted by default. If my video doesn’t fill your entire screen, I’d suggest you select “Speaker View.”  On desktop, do this by clicking “View” in the top-right corner of the Zoom screen, then selecting “Speaker.”
  8. Ideally, when you enter our shared space, you and I won’t speak unless you need assistance. Please help to create and maintain a sacred silence until you leave.
  9. While in the chair, relax. It’s okay if you feel awkward, or emotional, or unmoved. Have no expectations for the experience. Detach from outcomes. Accept whatever arises.
  10. When you feel ready to leave the Zoom, click the red “leave meeting” button. As you go, please know that I’m grateful for your beautiful presence in this world.
  11. Once you’re gone, I’ll welcome the next registrant from the Waiting Room. If you wish to provide feedback with suggestions, email me.

These instructions are a bit cumbersome, but I’m trying to make this unnatural process as clear and easy for you as possible. For your convenience, I’ll include them in your Zoom confirmation email.

If we encounter snags, we’ll learn from them. We have nothing to lose but more of our ignorance. Rest assured that I’ll be there to help you, should you need it, every step of the way.

* * *

There. Invitation issued, with appreciation. I look forward to possibly gazing with you soon.


Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash


Phyllis Cole-Dai

Phyllis Cole-Dai has authored or edited eleven books in multiple genres, including historical fiction, spiritual nonfiction and poetry. She lives in Brookings, South Dakota, USA.

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